Rashtrapati Bhawan and the Central Vista

Delhi is not one city, but many. In the 3,000 years of its existence, the name ‘Delhi’ (or Dhillika, Dilli, Dehli,) has been applied to these many cities, all more or less adjoining each other in their physical boundary, some overlapping others. Invaders and newcomers to the throne, anxious to leave imprints of their sovereign status, built citadels and settlements here like Jahanpanah, Siri, Firozabad, Shahjahanabad and, eventually, New Delhi.

In December 1911, the city hosted the Delhi Durbar (a grand assembly), to mark the coronation of King George V. At the end of the Durbar on 12 December, 1911, King George made an announcement that the capital of India was to be shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. There were many reasons behind this decision. Calcutta had become difficult to rule from, with the partition of Bengal and the growing antipathy towards foreign rule amongst Bengal’s educated and conscious elite. What was more, Delhi had been, for centuries, a major centre of power. Ever since Shahjahan had shifted the Mughal capital from Agra to Delhi, Delhi had remained, uninterrupted, the seat of the Mughals. It was time to recognize the importance of Delhi all over again. Like the numerous dynasties that had ruled Delhi over the years, the British realized the need to build their own city here, New Delhi. Before he returned to England, King George laid the foundation stone of the new city at the grounds where the Durbar had been held (present day Coronation Park). The area was later vetoed as a site for the city, because the ground proved too susceptible to waterlogging.

In the meantime, though, Lord Crewe of the India Office in London, after many deliberations, decided on two architects to design New Delhi. Edwin Landseer Lutyens, till then known mainly as an architect of English country homes, was one. The other was Herbert Baker, the architect of the Union buildings at Pretoria. Lutyens’ vision was to plan a city on lines similar to other great capitals of the world: Paris, Rome, and Washington DC. Broad, long avenues flanked by sprawling lawns, with impressive monuments punctuating the avenue, and the symbolic seat of power at the end— this was what Lutyens aimed for, and he found the perfect geographical location in the low Raisina Hill, west of Dinpanah (Purana Qila). Lutyens noticed that a straight line could connect Raisina Hill to Purana Qila (thus, symbolically, connecting the old with the new). This hill, therefore, became the focus of Lutyens’ and Baker’s plans for the new city.

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